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Report on Kalamazoo River oil spill should prompt action

Another opinion

July 22, 2012
Battle Creek Enquirer

Enbridge Inc.'s negligence led to the disastrous oil spill on the Kalamazoo River, but lax oversight is part of the story, and we're still waiting for definitive measures that will prevent a similar catastrophe.

The National Transportation Safety Board in a report released Tuesday blamed "pervasive organizational failures" at the Calgary-based pipeline company for the spill on Talmadge Creek near the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge Inc. knew in 2005 that its pipeline was cracked and corroded, the report concluded, but it didn't perform excavations that ultimately might have prevented the rupture.

That break spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil into the river, which remained closed for nearly two years while crews removed gooey clumps of oil from the river and its banks. The cleanup continues.

Not only did the company fail to respond to early warning signs, its response to the alarm squandered opportunities to lessen the extent of the disaster.

It was 17 hours after the initial alarm before Enbridge employees - discarding their own protocol - finally shut down the pipeline after receiving a call from the state of Michigan.

NTSB Chair Deborah Hersman said in statement that Enbridge employees performed like "Keystone Kops" in the failure to recognize the rupture.

Yet the Keystone Kops analogy cuts another way, too. The NTSB report was certainly scathing and made for good sound bites that were tough on Enbridge, but it's difficult to understand why we waited two years for substantive answers about what happened on July 26, 2010.

Last week's $3.7 million penalty issued by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration doesn't inspire a sense of justice, either. It may be a record fine, and the company has certainly incurred great expense - nearly $800 million - in the cleanup, but it's a drop in the bucket relative to the company's size and the value of its operations in Michigan.

But what most concerns us is what will happen to prevent another disaster. The NTSB report included 19 recommendations. It called on Enbridge to improve management and response plans and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to improve oversight, tighten industry standards and provide needed resources to ensure that operational plans are properly vetted.

What it didn't call for, however, was additional scrutiny for the company's plans to replace and expand capacity on Line 6B.

Judy Palnau, spokeswoman for the Michigan Public Service Commission, told Michigan Radio on Wednesday that the scathing federal report will likely have no impact on the commission's review of those plans.

The commission's review, she said, is limited to the route, design and engineering specifications.

That's insufficient. As we've said previously, we believe the project, which is moving rapidly through the permitting process and could be operational in 2013, merits far more scrutiny than it seems to be getting.

Michigan's leaders should be taking decisive steps to ensure that happens.

Enbridge certainly deserves blame for the spill - and it has generally accepted that responsibility - but this is an oversight failure as well.

Let's hope that the NTSB report prompts more than a list of recommendations.

 
 

 

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